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On the Runs

Concessions to Sinn Fein were mere smoke and mirrors

John McAnulty

3 August 2014

When Baroness Elizabeth Butler-Sloss was nominated to head an enquiry into child sexual abuse by leading politicians, there was an outcry that objected to her on the grounds of her position within the establishment. The victims objected to a “safe pair of hands” guiding the enquiry.

Anyone who wants to see how the establishment protects itself should read the “On the Runs” report produced by the safe pair of hands belonging to Dame Heather Hallett.  The report looked at letters given to republican activists when the IRA disarmed and when Sinn Fein later vowed unconditional support for the police, assuring them that they were not wanted by the authorities. 

It is a farrago of contradictory statements. No-one knew about the process - everyone knew. The process was perfectly legal - it was deeply flawed. No-one did anything wrong - individual police made mistakes.

When one wades to the end of the conclusion fits exactly the needs of the British political establishment. There is a denunciation of the process that satisfies the unionists, stopping short of a withdrawal of the letters which would humiliate Sinn Fein.

Sinn Fein greeted the outcome with relief and urged Peter Robinson to restart talks - an offer promptly rejected. Yet the outcome of the enquiry is a determination that the letters are worthless and that the holders, who are likely to include central elements of the pre-ceasefire IRA, are open to arrest at any time if new evidence is produced or if the case is reviewed. This view is strengthened by the fact that senior members of Sinn Fein are still being arrested on the bare charge of IRA membership while UVF members are placed on policing boards.

It is true that charges against John Downey, charged with the Hyde Park bombing, were dismissed. However this was not because he held a letter, but because he had travelled to London in the belief that he could not be prosecuted.

Following conflict the central point in any negotiations is impunity of the combatants from further action. Where such agreement is not achieved the technical term for the process is "unconditional surrender."

Sinn Fein was unable to win any political immunity in the Good Friday agreement. The British came up with a process of smoke and mirrors that inserted Sinn Fein in the new administration and facilitated the surrender of weapons. As there is no reverse gear, the concerns of the former republicans count for less and less, while the counter-offensive by the unionists, the political base of the British presence, grows greater.

This must be deeply upsetting to those holding the worthless pieces of paper issued by the British. However their role is to remain loyally silent in an ex-comrades association. Sinn Fein is now a mass party supported by capitalist forces who would spit blood at the idea of an Irish democracy.  

The struggle today is to find enough concessions to keep unionism within an increasingly shaky process. The safe pair of hands represented by Dame Heather Hallett has provided a temporary respite.

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